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I’ll never forget: Remembering of past events within the Silent Generation

as a challenge to the political mobilisation of nostalgia


Abstract


The political mobilisation of nostalgia is increasingly preoccupying social and political psychologists.


A key concern is with rising populism and the use of an imagined golden past to foster

threat through anti-EU and anti-immigrant sentiment. This article introduces two key concepts, anemoia – imagining a past not experienced – and prolepsis – how the past influences actions in the present aligned to future goals – to argue that actual recall of past biographical events potentially counters the influence of nostalgic rhetoric designed to influence political decisionmaking.


The focus of this article is a single Scottish case study, Rachel, a member of the Silent

Generation of citizens aged over 75 years, who have a living memory of WorldWar II and its

aftermath.Adialogical analysiswas carried out identifying key I-positions and chronotopic analysis of the dialogical self, relating to experienced extreme childhood poverty and deprivation, anti- Semitism and limited mobility. This demonstrated how living through a historic event and its repercussions, rather than imagining a past not experienced, mitigates against nostalgia.


This raises the question of how much mobilisation of the events of a glorious past and anxieties about the future rely upon the unexamined silence of those who recall those same events.


Summary


This article argues that the political mobilisation of nostalgia works through two key

concepts – anemoia, the imagination of a past that has not been experienced, and prolepsis,

how the past influences actions in the present aligned to future goals. Resistance to nostalgia is explored dialogically through a case study of a member of the Silent Generation (aged over 75 years) who has lived experience of World War II and its aftermath.

Nostalgic rhetoric in political decision-making is arguably designed to entice voters to

make choices based on the return to a glorious past (Gaston & Hilhorst, 2018; Kenny,

2017; Lammers & Baldwin, 2020). This is likely to have influenced political decisions

that have led to the election of populist leaders in countries like the UK, USA and parts of

Europe, and the leave vote in the UK–EU referendum. Nostalgia as a persuasive force is

well recognised; however, what is less understood is whether recalling lived experience of

the past can mitigate against nostalgic rhetoric and reduce its persuasive power. Nostalgia

as an imagined, rather than an experienced, past hints at the role of lived experience in

resisting the ‘uncharitable deceptions of the politics of nostalgia’ (De Brigard, 2017, p.

171). This article questions the parameters of the political mobilisation of nostalgia and

whether its reliance on anemoia, the past imagined by those who did not experience it, can

be resisted by those who experienced and can remember the past. We examine this

question by focusing on a single case, that of 79-year-old Glasgow citizen Rachel,

a member of the Silent Generation – the cohort of citizens over 75 years old – whose early

life experiences include World War II and its aftermath. Alongside a growing number of

social scientists who draw upon chronotopic analysis (e.g., Markov´a & Novaes, 2020;

Zittoun, 2020) to explore how the past is used dialogically in both present and future

orientations, we look at how Rachel recalls an impoverished and difficult past when asked

about belonging, acceptance and mobility. Rachel’s case study will begin to address the

question of whether older citizens with a lived experience of past events resist romanticised

nostalgic rhetoric around fictitious historical glorification.


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